Last night – somewhat against my better judgment as a statistical economist, not a TV star – I accepted Sagarika Ghose’s kind invitation to be on her State of the Nation TV program on CNN-IBN. I was honored to be part of a fascinating panel discussing the enduring problems around sanitation in India.
You can see the video of the approximately half-hour program here: http://ibnlive.in.com/videos/414385/state-of-the-nation-why-is-india-still-the-world-capital-for-open-defecation.html
For today’s blog post, I thought I would provide the evidence for some of the facts and figures I cited last night. Of course, regular readers will already know well the research on our sanitation and height conference tabs.
- Several papers now document a link between open defecation and child height: here in India, in Cambodia, in Bangladesh, and more. My own main paper on this topic explores the international association of child height with sanitation.
- Because the same early-life health and net nutrition that helps children grow to their height potentials also helps them grow to their cognitive potentials, taller children in India are much more likely to be able to read, write, and work math problems, on average.
- The state figures I cited are from the 2011 Indian census. I noted that if Bihar, Jharkahand, and Orissa were their own country, they would have a population of 178 million, making them the 7th largest country in the world, between Pakistan and Nigeria. In this fictional country, 78% of households would defecate in the open. According to Unicef-WHO Joint Monitoring Programme figures, this is a larger fraction than in any county anywhere – more than next competitors Chad, South Sudan, and Niger.
- Sanitation and nutrition are closely linked. Some people have interpreted the evidence to suggest a debate between sanitation and nutrition, but as Purnima Menon noted at the height conference, they work together. Children need to eat and absorb good nutrition, and not lose it to disease.
- One last point I made is that even if calorie deficits are not what explains widespread child stunting, this is independent of whether there are good reasons to care about food security. For example, at the height conference, Bidisha Barooah presented an interesting paper about the effects of school meals on students’ attention and classroom effort.